There's less than a fortnight left to have your say on child abuse and neglect by making a submission on the Government's Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. Submissions close on February 28, and every day an item in the news makes it painfully clear why as many New Zealanders as possible need to speak up.
The stories which spring most readily to mind are those about abused children. The most recent was the woman jailed for torturing her 9-year-old daughter. We need no reminding that every year in New Zealand around 10 children die because they are so badly mistreated by someone in their family.
But there are other headlines too which underline why the Green Paper is so important. A 16-year-old boy rapes a 5-year-old girl in Turangi. Another boy, 16, allegedly rapes a woman in broad daylight in an Auckland schoolyard. In Napier, two young men - aged 18 and 16 - are charged with bashing a 52-year-old man because he was wearing a shirt with Mongrel Mob colours in what the youths said was "Black Power country".
Many of you are probably saying "where are the parents?" and rightly so. Where are the parents, and what's going so wrong with these families that their children are going out and committing such crimes?
Is it about money? Is it about addiction? Is it about parenting skills? Is it about the community not taking responsibility? Is it about government agencies not doing the right things with the right families at the right time? Is it about suspending judgment long enough to understand that we don't live in equal worlds? These are all big questions. But the most important question is, what can be done to support vulnerable families and protect vulnerable children so they don't grow into young people facing the prison gates?
How do we stop them falling through the gaps because agencies are too involved with their own work to co-operate and protect the vulnerable?
Children can be vulnerable at any age, but most of all when they are young - under 5, and particularly under the age of 1. Teenagers are also vulnerable as they move into adulthood, but it's in childhood where their behaviour is learned - bad or good. These kids need to be protected from abusive parents, and that includes parents who offer no positive role modelling or guidance to their children. But how? Do you care? I've had many people challenging me that this is a Maori/Pasifika problem, and middle class New Zealand doesn't have to do anything as it's not happening in their back yard. In this day and age I'm stunned to see such prejudices, but it doesn't surprise me as this is a tough subject, and it's easier to seek someone to blame on the basis of race, religion or standing.
What do you think?
Does the Government need to step in quicker to remove children once they know a family isn't coping? Are these families missing out on services that would make all the difference in how they raise their children? Are the services the right ones and are they over-mandated with rules that are restrictive and not empowering? We've been asking these questions for a while now, and many have said they heard the same discussion 10, 15, or 20 years ago - so what's really going to change this time?
For me it's time for some answers. Agencies need to be realigned and have true working collaboration, political parties need to put aside their agendas and show absolute unity, communities have to stop pretending to hui and have real conversations and work collectively.
That's what the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children is searching for. This is your paper, and your answers, thoughts and ideas will feed directly into a children's action plan to do something tangible about child abuse and neglect.
So far at least 5000 of you have taken the time to pick up a pen or fire up your computer and submit. That's great, and as a Champion of the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, I'm delighted so many people have put their thoughts in writing. But many, many more need to do so. We all wish for a better country where our kids can live safely.
I know every New Zealander will think something about what the answer is - I just hope they will also say something. And remember, time is running out: you have only until February 28 to make your submission. There's never been a better time to show the moral courage to stand and say something about how we can change the face of this nation so that every child can thrive, belong and achieve.
Make a submission
* Visit www.saysomething.org.nz and make a submission online
* Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
* Pick up a freepost submission flyer from Winz offices
* Mail: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, PO Box 1556, Wellington 6140
* Facebook: www.facebook.com/greenpaperonchildren
* Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenpapernz
Former All Black Norm Hewitt is Champion for the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children